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March 4th, 2021

Over the course of my 25 years in fundraising, I have been asked multiple times to provide a rationale for a direct response program. This question doesn’t come from Annual Fund or Development staff, but from leadership or Board of Directors who misunderstand the purpose of direct mail and email solicitations. 

As one of our blog readers, you have probably defended what you do or have heard someone say, “I hate direct mail!” or “You send too many emails!” 

We’ve compiled a short list of defenses to provide you with an easy resource.

Direct mail fundraising got its start in the 1960s, and the fundamentals have held up over time. With countless test results from hundreds of thousands of charities, direct response fundraising has a solid foundation with a singular premise: it works. Response and results are immediate, allowing nonprofits to measure performance. 

Virtually every address in the United States has a mailbox, and chances are that almost every charitable individual and family are on someone’s database. Direct response gives you the opportunity to precisely target, reach and motivate donors in large numbers with personalized communications. If your nonprofit has broad community support backed by a large number of individual donors, your organization is much stronger and better able to weather adverse conditions than organizations that depend upon a small number of major donors or special events.

“… direct response fundraising has a solid foundation with a singular premise: it works.”

There are five primary reasons for a direct response program. 

  1. To Maintain Scale and Achieve Growth. As demand for programs or services increase, nonprofits need to scale their development efforts to keep pace. Identifying new supporters is required to grow income as well as keep pace with the loss of supporters that naturally occurs for all nonprofits. The two primary sources of a broad support are direct mail acquisition and online conversion, with individuals comprising over 70% of all charitable revenue generated in America. 
  2. To Increase Visibility. All forms of direct response outreach increase brand awareness to your targeted audience. Communications can also promote advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill or inform your audience of educational content such as signs or symptoms of a disease. Direct response outreach reminds your audience that your organization is creating solutions, and because of that, deserves a share of wallet by making readers feel part of that progress. 
  3. To Improve Efficiency. Direct mail is relatively inexpensive compared to other mass communication channels such as television or radio. Direct mail and email communications provides easy penetration into homes, and can reach a broader base of people at relatively low cost. Direct mail acquired donors are a source for cross-channel revenue and encourages activity across multiple channels. 
  4. To Enhance Involvement. Nonprofits need supporters who are loyal and eager to make an impact. Direct response helps build stronger relationships by communicating the donor’s impact on your mission and goals, and can often lead to other activities such as event participation, advocacy, or volunteering.
  5. To Ensure Stability. The recent pandemic has shown that having a “diverse portfolio” of giving channels provide stability. Nonprofits that are dependent on special events to generate revenue have struggled as that income source dried up overnight because of sheltering in place orders and social distancing requirements. A robust direct response program provides a very broad base of support and is the primary channel for monthly giving, Mid-level and Major Donors, and bequests. 

So next time someone disparages your career, make sure they know that direct response helps maintains your offices, pays the rent, and above all saves lives and makes a difference in the world.

Blog written by Barbara Johnson
Vice President of Client Services

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